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Authentically Orthodox

A Tradition-Bound Faith in American Life

Zev Eleff

Jewish Studies, Jewish Life and Tradition

Printed Paper Cased
Published: January 2020
ISBN: 9780814344804
Pages: 326 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 15 black-and-white images
Published: January 2020
ISBN: 9780814344828

With a fresh perspective, Authentically Orthodox: A Tradition-Bound Faith in American Life challenges the current historical paradigm in the study of Orthodox Judaism and other tradition-bound faith communities in the United States.Paying attention to "lived religion," the book moves beyond sermons and synagogues and examines the webs of experiences mediated by any number of American cultural forces. With exceptional writing, Zev Eleff lucidly explores Orthodox Judaism’s engagement with Jewish law, youth culture and gender, and how this religious group has been affected by its indigenous environs. To do this, the book makes ample use of archives and other previously unpublished primary sources.

Eleff explores the curious history of Passover peanut oil and the folkways and foodways that battled in this culinary arena to both justify and rebuff the validity of this healthier substitute for other fatty ingredients. He looks at the Yeshiva University quiz team’s fifteen minutes of fame on the nationally televised College Bowl program and the unprecedented pride of young people and youth culture in the burgeoning Modern Orthodox movement. Another chapter focuses on the advent of women’s prayer groups as an alternative to other synagogue experiences in Orthodox life and the vociferous opposition it received on the grounds that it was motivated by "heretical" religious and social movements. Whereas past monographs and articles argue that these communities have moved right toward a conservative brand of faith, Eleff posits that Orthodox Judaism—like other like-minded religious enclaves—ought to be studied in their American religious contexts.

The microhistories examined in Authentically Orthodox are some of the most exciting and understudied moments in American Jewish life and will hold the interest of scholars and students of American Jewish history and religion.

Zev Eleff is chief academic officer of Hebrew Theological College and associate professor of Jewish History at Touro College. He is the author or editor of nine books and more than forty scholarly articles in the field of American Jewish studies. His Who Rules the Synagogue: Religious Authority and the Formation of American Judaism and Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History were both finalists for the 2016 National Jewish Book Award.

Authentically Orthodox pushes the study of American Orthodoxy beyond the bounds of previous scholarship to explore ‘lived religion’ and the quest for ‘authenticity.’ Eleff's fascinating historical case studies demonstrate how the quotidian (Passover peanut oil!) can illuminate larger trends and how much American Orthodoxy has been shaped by the ever-changing culture that surrounds it. A fabulous contribution.

– Jonathan D. Sarna, author of American Judaism: A History

Eleff applies his rigorous training in the history of American religion to more contemporary Jewish trends. He highlights often overlooked examples of ‘lived Judaism’ and contextualizes them with the broader religious landscape. The result is a fresh and insightful perspective that emphasizes the particularly American elements in Modern Orthodox Judaism.

– Adam S. Ferziger, professor at Bar-Ilan University and author of Beyond Sectariansim: The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism (Wayne State University Press, 2015)

Eleff has done it again. It is one thing to analyze events in retrospect; it is much harder to understand them as they are occurring. Painstakingly researched, carefully argued, and sensitively and respectfully formulated by a keen, thoughtful observer of contemporary Jewish life, this outstanding book illuminates many trends in Orthodoxy and in the American Jewish community writ large.

– Jacob J. Schacter, University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought, Yeshiva University